by Christian Mifsud and Warren Bugeja.
Valletta has put on a majestic show. The façade of the Grand Master’s Palace is bedecked in imperial pomp with all the colonial trappings of rule and authority. The king takes his place in an enclosed podium festooned with British flags, where he watches the marching of the troops in St George’s Square. Above, dignitaries crowd the open balcony of the Palace, looking down on the proceedings.
Were it not for a couple of photos retrieved from the archives of the Antiquities Committee, this visual narrative might have been lost to history. Christian Mifsud, Principal Curator for Historic Buildings, opens a drawer in an office located in the bowels of the National Museum of Archaeology. The drawer contains detailed architectural plans, elevations and other documentation intended for the development of historic buildings between 1902 and later years.
Some of the buildings no longer exist, demolished to make room for other edifices or bombarded to rubble in World War II. The documentation in these archives may be the only clue to what they looked like, providing a deeper understanding of how they were constructed and the modifications made to the built fabric over the centuries.
Christian selected these plans as his ‘artefact’ of choice within the national collection for Heritage Malta’s HM TV series ‘Treasure To Meet You’ because they are invaluable to his work. In his role as a researcher, an archaeologist who focuses on buildings, these technical plans provide information on “extensions of new buildings, the opening of windows, the demolishing of internal partitions and also restoration which effectively gives you a whole narrative not only of the building through the archaeology but also through the archives,” he explains.
The collection contains a range of copies pertaining to various buildings, including what can be referred to as “development applications” for carrying out construction works. When cross-referenced with correspondence letters, files, and personal notes of the involved members, these plans offer detailed insights into the early development of cultural heritage ideas and townscape protection in Malta. The data compiled in these collections can complement existing knowledge from other archives, presenting additional narratives on how these buildings evolved over time to cater to the needs of the inhabitants. Furthermore, they shed light on the various purposes and functions these buildings served. As he leafs through some of the correspondence, Christian points out an intriguing nugget of information about proposed World War II shelters connecting historic buildings.
Alongside the architectural plans, accompanying photographs and drawings colour in social stories that help researchers reconstrue buildings and reimagine the decoration and contents of their rooms. For instance, images of a billiard table and the Gran Salon set up as a dining room assist in visualising the Auberge de Provence, today the National Museum of Archaeology, converted into a Union Club during the British occupation. They aid Mifsud in deconstructing the architectural changes to each building and reinstating missing features in his mind’s eye during their different reincarnations.
Christian believes that the archives, which were collected over time by different members of the Committee, are a testament to our predecessors’ enlightened vision regarding the nation’s built cultural heritage. “They serve as a continuous reminder for us to follow in their footsteps and preserve our heritage for upcoming generations.”
‘Treasure to Meet You’ is uploaded to Heritage Malta’s Facebook page every fortnight on a Tuesday at 19:00. The intimate series consists of short features in both English and Maltese versions. Each fortnight, viewers get to meet one of our dedicated curators, who were asked to select an artefact or feature from the national collection to which they are particularly
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